President Obama met young voters on their own turf recently as he fielded online questions in an open, "ask me anything" Reddit forum. The event, which drew two million people to the social news site and crashed servers, illustrates the Internet's potential not just as a two-way communication medium, but as a way to change the relationship between the government and those they govern.
The tremendous power of the Internet as a means for political communications is just one reason I was greatly relieved to see measures that would curtail freedom of expression like SOPA put on indefinite hold in Congress and measures like fair use and safe harbors on the table for negotiations in the 21st century trade agreement -- Trans-Pacific Partnership, under negotiation in Leesburg, Va., this week.
Both parties support the current multistakeholder approach to Internet governance and promise that they will oppose efforts by some countries to impose more government control over the Internet.
While they agree on this international issue, the party platforms differ on government involvement in cybersecurity and privacy with the Republicans slating these as issues for the private sector. The Republicans, however, do trumpet an all too often forgotten area of privacy -- how governments treat private, electronic information. That's often even more critical as citizens often don't have a choice about information they share with government or with electronic information the government takes action to obtain. In the Republican platform, personal data gets "full constitutional protection from government overreach."
The Democratic platform also says that using federal funds to increase Internet access in rural and underserved areas can create jobs opportunities and boost the economy. The Obama administration so far has invested $7.2 billion in stimulus money to expand Internet access mostly to anchor institutions likes schools and hospitals in rural areas, coming under criticism from fiscal conservatives.
While neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney's acceptance speech mentioned the goal of Internet freedom, Obama did renew his commitment to math and science education, asking for support to recruit 100,000 math and science teachers over the next 10 years, sounding much like President Clinton's program to put 100,000 additional police on the streets.
Aside from keeping the tech economy growing by fueling it with new, qualified, talent, there are few budget items on the tech industry's agenda. The tech industry is proud to be such a bright spot in this recovering economy, and there are encouraging signs the country is going in the right direction with more broadband deployment and a renewed commitment to balanced intellectual property policy and Internet freedom.
At first glance this news story about letting a baby dance to a Prince song on YouTube, as this Economist article highlights, is different and will no doubt appear in a different news category than Internet blackouts in Egypt, but the principle behind both issues is similar.
Whether the issue of the day is copyright infringement or open Internet access, censorship or a trade agreement, what the U.S. and the rest of the world could most use is an Internet freedom platform on which to base their daily policy challenges. These seemingly separate issues are united, or should be united, by common principles that support Internet freedom.
As countries that support free speech face a range of threats to Internet freedom from Internet restricting countries as well as those with good intentions who want to restrict the Internet to combat social ills, having a written document stating common principles and practices to maintain the open Internet could only help.
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